Women Call for Truth, Justice and Reconciliation in Zimbabwe

Women’s rights groups have urged the establishment of a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission in Zimbabwe as part of bringing to justice people who committed human rights violations – including sexual abuse against women – during the run-up to a second-round presidential vote in June 2008.

Zimbabwe witnessed some of its worst-ever political violence after then-opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai failed to achieve the margin required to take power in a first round of balloting. Tsvangirai eventually pulled out of the June ballot, citing state–sponsored attacks against his supporters, leaving incumbent president Robert Mugabe as sole candidate.

The election was widely condemned, and a political stalemate was eventually resolved when rival parties signed a Global Political Agreement (GPA) establishing a government of national unity.

“Any transitional process will not be effective unless it addresses the issues raised by those affected. Attempts of national healing and reconciliation without (justice) provide a short-lived remedy to conflict,” said Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) chair Emilia Muchawa.

WCoZ also called on Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders to pressure the unity government of Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to uphold a regional protocol on gender.

SADC heads of state and government signed the protocol on gender and development in Johannesburg in 2008. The protocol represents a significant commitment to the empowerment of women, the elimination of discrimination and the achievement of gender equality and equity.

Muchawa was speaking at the launch in Johannesburg of a documentary on violence against women in Zimbabwe on May 13. The documentary, titled “Hear Us – Zimbabwean Women Affected by Political Violence Speak Out” was launched with an accompanying report titled, “Putting it Right: Addressing Human Rights Violations Against Zimbabwean Women“.

The film gives detailed accounts and footage of how women were beaten, tortured and raped during the violence that engulfed Zimbabwe before the June vote.

Women’s groups estimate that more than 2000 women may have been raped between May and June last year.

In one of the most painful moments captured in the documentary a woman identified only as Memory recounts how she was gang-raped by militia from Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party at torture camp in rural Zimbabwe.

“When I arrived at the base, they removed all my clothes and I was raped by three men, one after the other,” Memory says in the documentary. She added that after the rape she attempted to file a report with the police who however declined to accept her statement.

“We are not dealing with political violence cases. The time will come when we will deal with them,” Memory recollects one police officer telling her.

The documentary was produced by the WCoZ working in collaboration with the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU), a non-governmental organisation based in Harare working on providing specialist assistance in research and advocacy in the field of human rights, democracy and governance.

Women have been calling on parties to the inclusive government to institute a truth and reconciliation commission, TRC, similar to that set up in South Africa to expose apartheid-era crimes, to examine the violence before and after the president run-off.

“We urge the Zimbabwean government to incorporate all signed human rights instruments relating to women into domestic law; particularly the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development. Also we urge the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to ensure the Zimbabwe government implements the GPA and the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development’,” said Kudakwashe Chitsike, a women rights activist with RAU.

Reached by phone in Harare for his response to the call for a truth and reconciliation commission, Zimbabwe Justice Minister and Zanu-PF chief negotiator Patrick Chinamasa told IPS, “In that regards we (unity government) have set-up an Organ of National Healing headed by three ministers from all parties, Minister John Nkomo (ZANU-PF), Minister Sekai Holland (MDC-T) and Minister Gibson Sibanda (MDC-M).

“These ministers are working on all issues related to Justice, Reconciliation and national healing. And it will be up them to see if such a commission is necessary or not. We will hear from them.”

Holland, the Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s office responsible for National Healing and Reconciliation told IPS, “We are going to do what the people of Zimbabwe want. They will tell us what they want us to do and we will do it. If they are demanding reconciliation commission that brings to trial individuals who committed human rights offenses we are going to set it up.”

WCoZ called on SADC, which brokered the GPA, to pressure the Harare government to implement the power-sharing agreement in full including clauses underpinning women’s rights.

“We urge the Zimbabwean government to adhere to the GPA particularly by; returning to the rule of law, bringing all the perpetrators of violence to book, ensure that there is no discrimination based on gender.”, Muchawa said.

The women’s coalition emphasises that regional governments should also lean on Harare to incorporate the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development into Zimbabwean law.



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